If you cut east from San Francisco and drive through the Central Valley past Sacramento and into the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range, you’ll hit Route 395 at roughly 6,000 ft. elevation. Head south toward the ancient Mono Lake, which, at 760,000 years old, is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Huge and blue beneath the winter sky, the alkaline water is twice as salty as the Pacific. Twenty species of sagebrush populate the area surrounding the lake, which hosts eighty species of migratory birds over the spring and summer (in July and August upwards of 100,000 phalaropes, which winter in South America, can be observed frolicking and fornicating), and pinyon, juniper, and conifer trees climb the foothills of the Eastern Sierras from which the water flows that feeds the lake. Many of these streams were diverted beginning in 1941 to slake the thirst of the burgeoning and still bloated population of Los Angeles. As the lake’s water level dropped, the tufa towers were exposed. Tufa towers resemble stalagmites of frozen, craterous bodies of liquefying mud. These vertical limestone fairy chimneys form in the lake as a result of the underground calcium-rich fresh water spewing up against the carbonate-rich alkaline lake water. According to the brochure, “This tufa-forming reaction happens only in the lake itself.” Here are some pictures of the lake followed by a scanned slideshow of the California State Parks Mono Lake brochure.
Fern Lake is a lesser known lake also fed by the mighty Sierra Nevada streams and supported by the hydrological cycle in general. Fern Lake lies upon the more fashionable June Lake, and in the snowy winter one can rent snowshoes for $20 a day from Ernie’s Tackle and Ski Shop and then go snowshoeing in the mountains. It’s a liberating experience which enables an abled-bodied person to explore winter wonderlands and the icy reaches of mountainous crests as though he or she were a non-hibernating animal such as a wolverine, polar bear, or yeti. UFO-shaped lenticular clouds above soar above the mountain peaks and below lies a frozen patchwork of ice and rock and June Lake condominiums. What follows are is a slideshow of the snowshoe trek to the frozen Fern Lake (which I overshot and ended up above), as well as the geothermal Travertine hot springs east of Bridgeport.